Thursday, March 12, 2009 - Epcot and the drive home

Our last day on the trip was planned to be another day at Epcot.  We would be there in the morning this time and take an hour or so later in the afternoon to do a lap around the lagoon and Epcot resorts.  Time was rather short considering that we still had a fun-filled seven-hour drive ahead of us, so we did not see any of the major shows like American Adventure, Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, or even the France movie.  The Universe of Energy was down for a refurbishment.  We entered the park just after nine in the morning, headed past Spaceship Earth, and went straight to The Land.

Epcot - The Land - 01 Epcot - The Land - 02

At park opening, the main traffic patterns have most of the guests heading to either Test Track or Soarin' first thing upon arrival.  That's still true in the off-season, but as you can see, it wasn't exactly a huge mob of people like during New Year's Eve.  You could actually walk to Soarin' at a comfortable pace, grab a FastPass, ride it in the stand-by line, and then easily head across the park to Test Track and do that stand-by line with only a short wait.  Our pattern was a little bit different because of our shortened schedule and it's not that easy moving around some of the buildings and dealing with elevators with an electric scooter.

Epcot - Living with the Land - 01

The coconuts were plentiful in the first greenhouse on the Living with the Land boat ride.

Epcot - Living with the Land - 02

The plants on top were harvested a day or so ago, so there's plenty of room for new growth.  That strange symbol in the lower plants looks vaguely familiar.

Epcot - Living with the Land - 03

But what's this?  Are the cast members dismantling the NASA display?  Are they going to move the Brussels sprouts over here to grow in their "natural" (or rather simulated) Martian soil for use on future space missions?

Epcot - The Seas with Nemo and Friends

The park was so empty . . .  How empty was it?  It was so empty that you could easily get a picture of this display with the fish from Finding Nemo without people and other children constantly getting in the way.  This picture was taken over an hour after the park opened.

Epcot - Innoventions Plaza

Epcot was just nice and peaceful.  It was a breeze walking through Innoventions Plaza and crossing Future World.

Epcot - Test Track

So what do you do when the lines for the major rides are short?  Why Test Track, of course!  It was a beautiful day for a 65 mile-per-hour pass by the front of the building.

monorail coral - Celebrate Today!

Here you can see the new Celebrate Today! balloon decorations on the outside of monorail coral as it passes through Epcot.  Luckily, those balloons are on all of the monorails and many of the WDW buses.

At this point in the day we had already been on Soarin', Living with the Land, Seas with Nemo and Friends, Journey into Your Imagination with Figment, Mission: SPACE, and Test Track, so we made our way out to World Showcase for a nice tour through the countries.  Naturally, we went on the Mexico and Norway boat rides while we were there.

Epcot - China - Year of the Ox

A small tribute to the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Ox in the China pavilion in World Showcase.  I don't remember seeing such displays for previous Chinese New Year animals, but if you're not looking for details like this, then it's rather easy to walk right past without even noticing it.

Epcot - World Showcase lagoon

These clouds were the worst bit of weather that we say during our entire stay in Orlando, FL.  They managed to mess up a few of my World Showcase pictures, but the clouds didn't stick around for that long.

Epcot - Japan

The main pagoda in Japan was being refurbished.  I don't know if this is just a routine refurbishment or if they were making some additions for the upcoming International Flower & Garden Festival.

Epcot - Morocco

Those are actually real tangerines on the trees in Morocco.  This was verified when a tangerine on the ground by a tree was accidentally stepped on by my brother, and it broke apart.  Not too long ago they used to have real pineapple plants growing in the back part of the Morocco pavilion.

Epcot - spider flower display

The famous spider flower display and the Dolphin hotel.  This was when we took a trip out through the International Gateway and visited a few of the Epcot resorts.

Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resorts - 01 Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resorts - 02

A nearly perfect day at Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resorts.

The Stormalong Bay mini-water park for the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts had a lot of people swimming and enjoying the water.  I wasn't expecting to see that many people in the pool since it was the off-season and the park hours were a bit shorter, but it was hot outside and the people were enjoying themselves.

Disney's Boardwalk - 01 Disney's Boardwalk - 02

But Disney's Boardwalk was empty.  The places that needed to see people spending their money the most saw the least amount of attention during the day.

Disney's Beach Club Resort

The path leading back to Disney's Beach Club and Epcot's International Gateway was deserted.  This was great for the couple of walkers and joggers going around the lake and getting some extra exercise.

Epcot - Spaceship Earth

It's still such a nice relief to be able to see this side of Spaceship Earth without the Mickey wand in the way.  With as much change that has occurred inside of the park, this is one of the few views where you can look at it and almost see how Epcot looked back in the early 1980's.  I miss those times very much, like many other people out there still do.  And of course, the I also miss the classic rides such as Horizons, World of Motion, the old CommuniCore, and the original Journey into Imagination ride and Image Works play area upstairs in the glass pyramids. That's not to say that many of the new rides and shows are just as entertaining as the original ones.  It's just that the original ones were outstanding, didn't need any height or special medical restrictions, could be enjoyed by everybody, and gave EPCOT Center a true sense of class.

We were planning on taking a last ride on Spaceship Earth until we realized how late in the day it was and we really needed to hit the road.  The main line queue was walk right on, but those of us traveling with a wheelchair or electric scooter have to go through a different line queue at the end of the ride.  Depending on the people waiting in that line and the competence of the cast members (we've had several issues with them there for some reason), it may take a half-hour or longer to go through Spaceship Earth.  We did go on it earlier in the trip and it's a ride that we usually go on each time we visit the park, so it wasn't a major loss to skip it on the way out.  We'll definitely go on it again on future trips.

Epcot - parking lot tram

An empty parking lot tram heading back to the front of Epcot.  The park was a little bit busy by some areas and Soarin' and Test Track had decent lines, but there weren't a whole lot of guests flowing in and out of the park in the mid-afternoon.

Epcot symbol

The parking lot symbol for Epcot.  Again, we don't know if these logos are new or if we've just never noticed them before.  We left the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios parks at night and didn't notice if they had similar logos in the parking lots.

And that was it for our trip to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.

At 4:30 in the afternoon we headed out through Western Way by Disney's Coronado Springs, and took that to the 429 toll road which connected to the Florida Turnpike.  The cops were out in force along Interstate 75 in several spots, and we didn't arrive back here in the northern part of metro Atlanta, GA until just after midnight.

Conclusion

If you haven't already guessed it, there were two main positive statements about this recent off-season trip to Orlando, Florida.

1) The lack of heavy crowds.

2) The absolutely outstanding weather.

I know that the nearly perfect weather was just a stroke of luck on our part.  Spring in Central Florida is usually fairly warm with cool evenings, and what we experienced were hot days and warm nights.  The daylight savings time change also had an effect on the warmer evenings by making us feel the 6 pm weather when it was 7 pm.

I have several rather unpleasant memories of having bitter cold nights while on Spring break trips to WDW.  The days would be pretty nice but at night the wind would blow and people would be huddle in shops and inside of buildings trying to stay warm.  Sweatshirt, blanket, and jacket sales would also spike during those cold outbreaks.  We've also encountered freezing cold weather one year and very warm weather the next.  It's nearly impossible to plan an early Spring trip and planning on it being nice and hot in Florida (unless you're from Alaska or Montana where 60ºF seems like a hot day).  The best thing to do is to watch the weather forecasts just before a Spring trip and bring along the appropriate clothes.

In this case it was a suitcase full of shorts and shirts and a light jacket and pair of jeans just in case there was a cold spot.

The heavy crowds, on the other hand, could be avoided with proper planning.

If you really want to experience the theme parks without the heavy crowds and with most of the rides and shows operating, I cannot say enough about going during the off-season such as early Spring or during most times in the Fall.  Early March and the first half of November are some of the slowest times in Central Florida.  Room rates are significantly cheaper, the lines are much shorter, and in a way you don't feel as tired and worn out because of the earlier park closing times.  The shorter lines still allow you to see and experience everything, and without huge mobs of people taking all of the FastPasses you can maximize your visits to the parks even more.

When traveling to Disney with children, it's worth it to try an off-season vacation at least once.  It's much easier going on all of the rides, and the lack of the intense Summer heat and humidity makes it a more pleasurable experience.  This isn't a luxury for all of the Florida travelers, but if you can do it, you should try this type of a trip at least once.

Traveling with an electric wheelchair was significantly easier in the off-season.

As far as my next trip to Orlando, depending on how things go it will probably be around the opening of the new Hollywood Rip, Ride, RockIt roller coaster in Universal Studios Florida.  I can see doing a long weekend trip for that ride.

Thanks for making it through this trip report!